African Democracy Institute IDASA

  • Idasa is an independent public interest organisation committed to promoting sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions, and social justice.
  • It is a registered Section 21 company in South Africa, has a functioning Board of Directors, and employs Grant Thornton as its company auditors. Idasa is a recognised public interest organisation in Africa. It maintains international links with many similar organisations through the world movement for democracy. (What is IDASA).

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More About IDASA: It has been said that an understanding of the past is the only reliable guide for the future. South Africans would do well to be reminded of that. As a nation South Africans are expert at complaining mightily about the present and compulsively predicting the future, but it seems share a collective amnesia when it comes to the past. 

Smoothing over the sharp edges of history is one thing; ignoring memory is short-sighted. Anniversaries are times for celebrating, they are also opportunities to look back and take stock.

The 1980s – and South Africa was in turmoil. The apartheid security forces were engaged in a determined campaign to suppress almost daily guerrilla attacks on strategic installations and to curb the upsurge of popular resistance that had grown since the 1983 launch of the United Democratic Front. The government’s arsenal of detentions, shootings, bannings and repeated states of emergency was met with the mass movement’s “Make South Africa Ungovernable” campaign.

Against this backdrop of mounting violence and repression, Dr Alex Boraine and Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert made their decision in 1986 to resign as members of parliament. This was their protest against the bankruptcy of whites-only government and the politics of exclusion and repression. It expressed a widely felt frustration with piecemeal National Party-dominated reform efforts which were being seen as the last desperate attempts of the apartheid government to maintain white domination in the face of international and local resistance.

Travelling throughout the country and abroad to consult a wide cross-section of political leaders, including O. R. Tambo, president of the then-banned ANC, they solicited support for the conclusion they were coming to — that they could play a more effective role in the struggle to end apartheid from outside parliament, by bringing together South Africans from across the racial, political and economic divides to explore the idea of a democratic alternative.

The result was the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa or Idasa, which opened its first office in Port Elizabeth on 1 November 1986 and held its official launch at a conference in Port Elizabeth on 8-9 May 1987. Its aim – to find an alternative way to address the polarisation between black and white South Africans. Its mission – to assist a peaceful transition to democracy in the country and foster and strengthen a culture of democracy.

It seemed unthinkable at the time, and indeed immediately drew harsh criticism from many quarters — from the state, vitriolic anger; from the mass democratic movement and many of its allies, scorn and cynicism about Idasa’s faith in negotiations in the face of the state’s onslaught. “In 1987, the politics of coercion and co-option held full sway. Negotiation politics was not an option. The ANC and others were banned, and exiled organisations were demonised and marginalised,” wrote Boraine, Idasa’s first Executive Director … (full text).

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